Filings: Is your God from around here?

I once overheard part of a conversation where a young college man, fresh from his Comparative Religion class, was explaining to my wife and daughter that, according to his professor, Christianity is a Western religion. My ladies were politely having none of it since they’ve got a good understanding of both Christianity and geography.

I suppose that the professor could consider that the Middle Eastern religions – Christianity, Judiaism and Islam – are “western” in the sense that they are not from as far east as Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, or that Christianity and Judiaism have had more influence in the West. Nevertheless, whether you consult Genesis or Rand-McNally, Christianity is an Eastern religion.

This is even more clear philosophically when you consider the religions of Greece and Rome, the root cultures of Western civilization. The Greeks and Romans shared the same cast of multiple gods only with different names. It should also be noted that this pantheon (look it up, homeschoolers) consisted of beings who were lustful, quick-tempered, deceitful, vain, petty and untrustworthy. Sounds like the cast for the next reality program, Survivor: Mount Olympus. In short, these were gods made in the image of humans. If you go further West into old Europe and Britain you find even more polytheistic paganism.

The Judeo-Christian and Islamic revelation of one God, perfect and all-powerful who requires not just worship but the pursuit of moral excellence (and provides the framework for doing so) is a radically different – and un-Western – spiritual proposition. In fact, it might be an interesting exercise for you and your children to imagine and discuss the effects on individual behavior and society of trying to serve arbitrary, unpredictable gods who were little more than immortal and more self-indulgent versions of yourself.

Another point to ponder is that polytheism hasn’t gone away. Today our worldly culture goes through incredible contortions to deny or ignore the first commandment. Science and law strive to claim there is no God while philosophy and the entertainment industry promote that there really are all kinds of gods and they all should be recognized the same in the name of diversity. Meanwhile law, science, philosophy, entertainment, politics and others all have their enthusiastic disciples eager to evangelize our children.

Sometimes it’s through head on confrontation, other times by a slow and steady erosion of relativity and rationalization aimed at sowing and watering doubt. Often it is the intellectual seduction of a respected teacher or professor saying, “Oh, surely you’re too smart to still hold those outmoded beliefs. Now let me show you how we turn gold into lead.”

At some point our children will face all of these and more. Their ultimate defense is not in simply knowing the Bible, but in knowing God. Others will try to turn God and Christ into mere concepts, and arguments about concepts are rarely productive and often dangerous. A young person who has sought a relationship with Christ, experienced a revelation from God, applied these to his or her life and achieved a noticeable result is young person who has a strong foundation to counter any argument or doubt.

Our children may feel strongly about something, but strong feelings are easy to come by, and are on every side of an argument. A personal testimony is virtually indisputible. If your child can say “God said this, I believed it, acted on it, and this happened in my life,” there is little anyone can say to refute it (especially if you have the x-rays to prove it!) Being able to recite scripture isn’t a bad thing; being able to apply scripture, however, will change the world.

2 thoughts on “Filings: Is your God from around here?

  1. Good post.

    Just to quibble, Roman and Greek religions were significantly more distinct than you suggest. People tend to get hung up on Romans adopting the Greek pantheon of gods, but forget the prior Roman religious traditions were maintained as well.

    And your disctinction between “East and West” (i.e. Orient and Occident) in religion leaves out that area traditionally called the “Levant,” which is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

  2. You’re right, of course. I haven’t been in my Edith Hamilton for some time, so I’ve let the Greek/Roman distinctions smudge. My recollection is that in both flavors the deities were “mercurial.” An interesting point about the Levant, because I’m trying to think of any literary reference to a “Levantine” that didn’t mean someone Jewish.

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